By Laura Keil

When I first saw the government press release about a new Northern bus service I was excited – finally an affordable bus for city trips without having to get up at 3 or 4am!

My excitement faded when I saw the schedule.

It appears BC Bus North isn’t designed for Robson Valley people, but rather urban busses.

BC Bus North will happily pick you up from Valemount, Tete Jaune or McBride on Mondays and Fridays and take you to Prince George by 7pm in the evening. Then you are stuck there for 3-5 days depending on when you arrive.

The government says it wants “to ensure people aren’t left stranded and isolated in their home communities.” Instead it apparently wants Robson Valley people to be stranded and isolated in Prince George.

I imagine most people using public transportation are cost-aware people unwilling to stay in a hotel for 3-5 days while waiting for a return trip.

Painfully, anyone in Prince George can hop on a bus to the Robson Valley Mondays and Fridays, spend 4-7 hours (depending on whether it’s Valemount or McBride), and be home by 7 in the evening – an itinerary that would be amazing were it reversed.

But wait, couldn’t a person use Via Rail and maybe even the Health Bus for the return?

I checked out the schedules for Via Rail, Northern Health Connections (health bus) and BC Bus North to find out if a person could harmonize the three based on a Robson Valley-Prince George return trip.

Via Rail runs between Prince George and McBride (not Valemount), while BC Bus North and the health bus stop in both McBride and Valemount one day per week.

Unfortunately BC Bus North is essentially incompatible with every other existing service when it comes to getting to and from Prince George.

It basically duplicates the trip Via Rail does between McBride and Prince George on Mondays and Friday. Should we pit two tax-funded transit services against one another?

You can get to Prince George Fridays at 7pm (BC Bus North & Via) and come home Saturdays at 7am (Via). Good for concert-goers, I suppose, but doesn’t include any useful daytime hours and duplicates an existing itinerary by Via Rail.

From a Prince George perspective, those hoping to catch a Greyhound bus to Kamloops or Edmonton via Valemount would actually be better served by arriving in evening, instead of morning, since Greyhound only does Valemount pickups between 4am and 7am.

The Prince George-McBride-Valemount schedule should be reversed. It would make this fledgling service very useful to Robson Valley residents – increasing the days they can schedule health appointments and allowing single-day shopping trips. At the same time, it would shorten the layover time for Prince George residents catching the Greyhound bus from Valemount.

Improvements to Health Bus

On a more positive note, Northern Health announced changes last week that liberalize who can ride the Health Bus. For instance, anyone over the age of 60 and anyone with mobility challenges do not need a health appointment to ride the bus. Additionally, a companion rider doesn’t have to help the primary rider with physical needs – now they can simply be there as a companion. Also, immediate family members of hospital patients or high-risk pregnancy patients (who are spending the remainder of their pregnancy in Prince George) can ride the bus to visit the patient. Patients can also have two companions on the bus, though this is based on availability of space. Anyone with a health care appointment can ride the bus – that includes appointments for physiotherapy, acupuncture or anything approved by Northern Health.

Plus, the Northern Health bus can bring a Robson Valley resident to Prince George or Kamloops and back again in one day – a rather essential feature for those wanting to avoid a hotel stay.